Thursday, December 25, 2008

The myth that holding elections are inherently good and 'godly'

Kashmiri Muslim protesters shout pro-freedom and anti-election slogans outside a polling station in Barsoo, some 28 kilometers (17 miles) north of Srinagar, India, Sunday, Nov. 23, 2008. Government soldiers opened fire on hundreds of stone-throwing Muslims protesting against elections in Indian Kashmir on Saturday, killing two people and seriously wounding another, police said. (AP Photo/Dar Yasin)

To hold elections is a noble thing. To oppose the holding of elections is undemocratic. This is what we are used to hearing. This is what we were told when the Eastern Provincial Council Elections were held. The same thing is being said in Kashmir with the recent Legislative assembly polls there. The Hindu today has an editorial titled 'Democracy triumphs' praising the inherent goodness of elections:

In the event, the people of J&K have left no doubt that they see in India’s democracy, however imperfect, the best means to address the multiple problems they face. From the outset, this newspaper has editorially argued that free and fair elections would do more to defuse the crisis than the regrettable practice of seeking backdoor deals with forces claiming to represent the State’s people... India’s exemplary Election Commission, Governor N.N. Vohra, National Security Advisor M.K. Narayanan, the State government’s officials and, above all, the people of Jammu and Kashmir deserve unreserved applause for enabling democracy to triumph amidst the most difficult circumstances imaginable.

The turn out was surprisingly very high: On the first count, voter turnout in the 87 Assembly constituencies rose dramatically from 43 per cent in 2002 to around 62 per cent — slightly higher than the national average, which hovers around 60 per cent. Without dispute, the most heartening signal came from the Kashmir Valley, where voter turnout was 55 per cent compared with 29.5 per cent in 2002. Even in Srinagar, the heartland of J&K’s Islamist-led secessionist movement, voter turnout quadrupled from a pathetic 5.06 per cent in 2002 to 21 per cent in 2008.

This has according to the Indian express has shocked the moderate secessionists to reconsider their options. See article here.

Here comes the other side of the story. An article on the Wall Street Journal reports as follows:

But many voters who lined up at the polls Saturday in south Kashmir, for example, also turned out at anti-Indian protest marches weeks earlier. In the town of Tral, 20-year-old student Manzur Ahmad said that he was voting for an incumbent candidate because, in recent years, the lawmaker had managed to curb the harassment of local youths by government forces. "We vote because this makes our lives easier - but this doesn't mean we don't want freedom," he said.

So much for the Hindu editorial claiming that the turn out was an acceptance of Indian democracy. Further the article reports,

In the village of Samboora, residents said that Indian Army troops went from house to house on Saturday morning, rounding up families and taking them to a polling station. As a reporter drove into the village Saturday afternoon, an army vehicle with several soldiers stopped by the walled compound of Ghulam Mohammad, pulling the 59-year-old retiree onto the road. Seeing a foreign reporter, the soldiers jumped into their vehicle and quickly drove off. "They asked me why I'm not voting, and I said that's because I don't like any of the candidates," Mr. Mohammad said moments later. "They said, if I don't vote, I'll be sorry later."

I am grateful to Kafila for pointing me to this piece.

I argued in earlier posts (here and here) that the Eastern Local government and provincial council elections cannot be considered 'good' on their own and that the turn out at the Eastern provincial council elections (despite the enormous ballot stuffing) cannot be considered an acceptance of TMVP's or Mahinda's scheme. People vote for a multitude of reasons. The Kashmir example i hope illustrates this more clearly.

Monday, December 22, 2008

'Majoritarianism wins with the acquiescence of the Minorities' ?

The following extract is from Prof Jayadeva Uyangoda's October article to the EPW (Economic and Political Weekly) dated 25 October 2008. A full version of the article is available from tamilnation here.

"I believed for quite some time that ethnic majoritarianism is a political condition that the political leaders of the majority community impose by means of coercion on the ethnic minorities. It accords an unequal, at best second class, status to the minorities. Minorities do not accept majoritarianism and they resist it. That is why ethnic conflicts flare up. Observing how the Tamil and Muslim political parties in Sri Lanka have come to accept the second class and unequal status with great pleasure, I changed, realising that my understanding of majoritarianism was an incomplete one.

I now know that ethnic majoritarianism is not necessarily coercive. It has a strong element of consent of the minorities, or at least their political leaders. Majoritarianism is completed when the political representatives of the minorities accept, with happiness and even in intense competition with each other, the condition of inequality. They do so in exchange of other benefits which are usually couched in the respectable language of “development assistance to our community”.

That is what the 25 years of civil war has done to the minority rights project in Sri Lanka."

The part italicised is my own emphasis from the original. It is a very short article and the excerpt above comes at the tail end of the article.

I am unable to agree with the professor's analysis (which is not detailed possibly because he was constrained by space) and hence my disagreement with his 'new conclusion' about majoritarianism. Prof Uyangoda's reference to the minorities accepting a second class status is possibly a conclusion resulting from his analysis of Karuna's, Douglas's and possibly Thondaman's politics.

I do not think the minority ever willingly gives into majoritarianism. I do not think that they give it up with 'great pleasure'. The fact that the minorities 'give up' is essentially related and directly linked to coercive majoritarianism. The Prof seems to tag this 'giving up' as unconnected with coercive majoritarianism. Its a victory of one over the other, where the victorious picks the new leaders of the minority. I would say Thondaman, Karuna and Douglas are all examples of this. The fact that these political parties have given up does not mean that the entire community has given up. These political parties have 'given up' because they were unable to survive in their attempts to resist coercive majoritarianism. The petty agendas of these political parties and their leaders cannot be taken as a give up by a minority. I can understand a war weary population seeking out developmental assistance - an assistance which is reliant on the resources the majority has almost exclusive control over. Hence destruction, starvation and hunger is a tool of coercive majoritarianism. War wearediness can also result because of the leaders of the minority struggle lacking startegic political vision as in the case of LTTE. The dillema of minority politics in Sri Lanka is not because it has given it up with 'great pleasure' as Prof Uyangoda calls it. It is because 1) coercive majoritarianism having been able to cleverly stick to the fundamentals of majoritarian democracy (having periodic elections) has succeeded or appears to have succeeded in winning over minority politics both by the use of tools associated with majoritarian democracy (again elections and numbers) and through the use of arms and 2) because minority politics lacks imagination and flexibility.

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

India: Secular politics feeding Muslim Fundamentalism?

There is an interesting debate going in the media around the world regarding the source and question of Islamic Fundmentalism in India. This is from an opinion piece that appears in the Hindu today:

"Muslim fundamentalism has also been helped by India’s “secular” political establishment which, barring the Left, has not only made no effort to develop a progressive Muslim leadership but actively prevented it from taking root. Instead, it has relied on a class of Muslim “leaders” whose own political interest lies in keeping the community backward-looking.

By mobilising Muslims around issues that have nothing to do with their daily lives they have landed the community in a situation where it finds itself a target of Hindu fundamentalists, on the one hand, and susceptible to faith-based militant Islamist elements on the other
While the Congress is the chief culprit in this respect, it is not alone in propping up self-serving Muslim leaders.

The fact is that it is hard to name any progressive Muslim leader in any of the secular parties. Over the years, the only change that has been noticed is that instead of “mullahs” with long beards we now have suave English-speaking Muslim leaders to match the “modern” face of Hindutva. Their language and worldview, however, remain unashamedly sectarian".
I see a very valid point in the analysis. It is a difficult point to articulate given that those articulating may be accused of playing into the hands of Hindutva's 'appeasing the minorities' argument. The piece actually exempts the Left parties from this but I remember reading a chapter from Partha Chattergee's "Politics of the Governed" where he argues using a case study relating to the issue of modernising Madarassa education in Left governed West Bengal that the Left parties may also be accused of the same. Shabana Azmi (the acclaimed actress and social activist) makes a similar point in a TV interview available here on youtube.